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Baker's Dozen

"It's Entertainment, You Know?" Trevor Horn's Favourite Albums
Jude Rogers , February 5th, 2019 09:57

Producer and innovator Trevor Horn guides Jude Rogers through 13 favourite albums, telling tales of how Kraftwerk led him to breaking the Official Secrets Act and tripping to Yes

Behind every shiny tale of pop success lies a messier story. Take the saga of the teenager left behind by his parents in a tough village near Sunderland in his mid-teens, losing himself in records as his grandfather died in the front room. Take his years playing the double bass and guitar on local club circuits, trying to make it in the music industry but never quite getting through. The long, laboured apprenticeship often pays off though. David Bowie and Elton John could tell you that – and so could Trevor Horn.

This month marks forty years since he made a demo of a song called 'Video Killed The Radio Star' with his Buggles' partner Geoff Downes – it went to No. 1 that October, only five weeks after it was released. No one knew where Horn had come from. "But I'd played shows for twelve years. After that, after I first decided I was doing to be a producer, it took me five years." The 69-year-old laughs down the phone. "But that's a good thing. It means that by the time you have some success, at least you have some experience. In the year before 'Video Killed The Radio Star' I recorded 48 tracks and my total profit for that was £2,500 – and here were people trying to work out the magic thing I did. But it didn't come from nowhere. It came from a lot of graft."

Then the decade that followed was defined by him. Say the name Trevor Horn, and you'll think of sharp, futuristic, precise, glossy pop, his Fairlight synthesiser and drum machine creating crunchy, punchy new worlds (key records: ABC's The Look Of Love, Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Welcome To The Pleasuredome, on his late wife Jill Sinclair and Paul Morley's label, ZTT, Art Of Noise's Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?, Grace Jones' Slave To The Rhythm and Seal's Seal for starters). This is why Horn's Baker's Dozen choices may initially seem a surprise. Here's classic '60s bluesy pop. The biggest prog rock record ever. Joni Mitchell (with whom he partied last New Year's Eve). Deacon Blue. But delve further, and you'll notice Horn's production credits wandering far and wide. There's LeAnn Rimes' 2000 mega-ballad 'Can't Fight The Moonlight'. Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' (alongside Midge Ure). Belle And Sebastian's Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Robbie Williams' knowingly-titled (and underrated) Reality Killed The Video Star. They sound like a disparate bunch on paper, but play them together, with a side-order of Propaganda's A Secret Wish and the Pet Shop Boys' Fundamental, and you'll hear drama and panorama consistently. Directness and vigour. Plus a fair few ZTT synth stabs (they totally make the LeAnn Rimes).

But like his early idol, Bob Dylan (Horn did a tribute act to him with a harmonica in his mid-teens), Horn likes going against the grain. You could see this in his early interviews, like this one with Fred Dellar in a September 1980 issue of Smash Hits. "We felt that it was about time that somebody started making good, well-produced pop records again," he said, pointedly. "We try not to be too obvious."

His new Trevor Horn Reimagines the Eighties album certainly fits this brief. It still creates its own world – an old decade dressed-up in cosy, sparkly, Radio 2 finery. But who would revisit their game-changing back catalogue, and other huge songs from that era, with X Factor-friendly artists like Matt Cardle and Gabrielle Aplin? A provocateur like Horn – that's who. "It's entertainment, you know?" he says, cheekily. "It's a different kind of thing. The cutting-edge is never where you think it is, anyway. If you're trying to get there, by the time you're approaching it, it's moved somewhere else."

Click the picture of Trevor Horn to begin reading his selections. Trevor Horn's new album Trevor Horn Reimagines The 80s is out now

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